Zambia: Are Journalists Dogs or Watchdogs?

Zambian journalists have recently been in the news not as reporters and editors but as victims after an opposition parliamentarian labeled those working for state-controlled media organisations as Lt-Gen Ronnie Shikapwasha's dogs. Lt-Gen Ronnie Shikapwasha is the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services.

The opposition Patriotic Front (PF) Lusaka-based Munali Constituency Member of Parliament, Mumbi Phiri, who has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in the last one year or so, was incensed when a state-owned media reporter asked her about allegations that she had allegedly sold a piece of land illegally in her constituency.

Zambian opposition parties are hardly covered by state-controlled newspapers and broadcasting stations and when they are, they are only reported negatively. For Ms Mumbi, her negative reportage goes back to early last year when she fought with a fellow PF female parliamentarian, Elizabeth Chitika-Mulobeka, in the National Assembly building and was later in the same year arrested with another opposition parliamentarian for a civil disobedience offence of hooting in support of a campaign in which Zambians flash red cards against President Rupiah Banda’s government.

Blogger Richard Mulonga, who also works for state-owned Times of Zambia, wrote about the protest  march against the erring MP which took place Tuesday October 12 after which the journalists presented a petition to the Speaker of the National Assembly:

Journalists from the public media (including myself) have successfully sent a petition to the Speaker of the National Amussa Mwanamwambwa against Munali Member of Parliament Mumbi Phiri.
Chipangali Member of Parliament Vincent Mwale had the pleasure to receive our petition to forward to the Speaker as per parliamentary etiquette and procedure. We are now waiting for parliamentary course of action to take course before the public can know the outcome of our cry.
Ignore the bad press and negative comments some people uttered and still want to utter. They have selfish motives and objectives. It is only a matter of time and the truth shall be known. We know most of these people are like pawns. They do not have minds of their. They fight other people’s battles just because of a small wage or some pat on the back. Others are chasing for favours. But this is where some people have taken the Zambian media, a platform where they can achieve selfish egos.
We carried placards and chanted slogans as we marched from Arcades Shopping Centre to the Parliament through the great east road where our colleagues from the police service received us with courtesy, contrary to previous years when this procession should have ended in severe beatings and such agony as spending hours or a night in custody.

But the affected journalists have not received a lot of sympathy from the public who are generally not happy with the way state media covers news in general and news about opposition parties in particular. When Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation public relations manager Mirriam Tonga said ZNBC staff would also join the protest march in a story carried by the Zambian Watchdog,  one contributor calling himself Munthu, wrote:

We’ll also just organise a counter demo against these untrainable public media Journalist dogs who never learn to detect the anger and frustration of the public at large over their ineptitude, incompetence and bias in news coverage.

They need to be reminded that its not only MMD members who pay the K3000 (TV licence fee). Every Zambian, regardless of party affiliation has a right to fair coverage, being the pay master of these dogs.

Another contributor calling himself Bishop Alistoto wrote:

I will also join the demonstration. Where is the assembly point?

The purpose of my participation in this demonstration is to add numbers to attract the attention of all Zambians and outside world that public media employees have chosen to be called Dogs because of the way they disseminate information.

Its only wrong to be called a dog if you are untrainable because dogs are trainable, just watch the dog wispers on geographical channel.

it looks like ZNBC, Daily Mail, ZANA and Times of Zambia have their own syllabus different from the rest of the world. Could have studied journalism in Iraq under Sadam Huissen or Bin Ladin.

In any case give me the details of your assembly point, I am gonna be in attendance.

Ms Mumbi, however, apologised before the protest march for her statement which threw the march preparations into disarray with some of the organisations representing media workers, notably the Press Association of Zambia whose vice chairman, Amos Chanda was quoted in the Lusaka Times, accepting the apology and withdrawing from the demonstration.

In her apology, according to a story carried by the Lusaka Times Ms Phiri said she did not call the journalists in question “Dogs” but “Watch Dogs” saying she had respect for human beings saying there was no way she would have called a fellow human being “dog”.

This is a deliberate misrepresentation of facts and distortion of my words, there was no way I can call a fellow human being a dog. This notwithstanding, I want to apologise most sincerely to all those who may have been injured by this misrepresentation and deliberate distortion of my words, It was never my intention,” she said.

Reacting to Ms Phiri's apology, Alter Boy says:

Apologies accepted, meanwhile the affected jornalists should continue to examine their conducts. Apology is fine for now (for wrong choice of words) but I am sure if one was sincere, there is some substance in what she was talking about.

Mafosisa criticizes both the state and independent media:

Ba Journo please learn to pick on your own size. The poor MP said she made a mistake and has even apologised. What else do you want? Meanwhile Party and Govt has been busy harasing your FELLOW JOURNOS sometimes with beatings at airports and you’ve done nothing. Then there is the fact that Govt is pushing for media regulation in a manner that robs all of freedom of expresion but there has been no match againist it. Why are you so trivial? No ethics in govt media and no morals in independent media. All you guys are concerned with is your pay cheque or that kick back. I would not have apologised because the way things are going you are worse than Ntweno.

Mpangula thinks
that criticism against state media is fair. He says that he has stopped getting news from state controlled media for the past 6 months:

I have stopped listening to ZNBC & Radio from Govt., controlled institutions for the past 6 months. I have become more wiser now & havent missed a thing.

Speaking Times advises Zambian netizens to be objective and welcome her apology:

I see know reason- we should rejoice on insults, let us be objective in our debates or blogs…Mumbi’s apology should be welcomed but pipo should not only apologise when they see harm coming their way, she could have clarified earlier….Journalists back for work, this issue is over

Could this be the turning point for state-controlled media journalists to prove that they are indeed independent of government control by extending coverage to all Zambians?

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